Playing Without a Pseudonym

A guide for coaches and players
by Coach Michael Sacks, Homewood-Flossmoor

The IHSA rules changes for 2016-2017 will create significant improvement for most Scholastic Bowl teams, coaches and players. By including 4-on-4 matches in the definition of Scholastic Bowl, while eliminating any season restrictions and expanding the number of competition dates, the IHSA has allowed for coaches and players to no longer stress about the difference between styles of competitions on the calendar. Some of the more obvious benefits are that teams can practice after IHSA State and before some official “start” day with no issues, and can count their 4-on-4 records as part of their “official” record. Under past rules, teams who competed after IHSA State in 4-on-4 competitions were not regulated by the IHSA, but had to organize separately than they would do for 5-on-5 IHSA-style competitions (if not, they were potentially at risk for sanction for competing in Nationals and other after-IHSA State tournaments).

The regulation of 4-on-4 matches has many benefits, but one obvious detraction for some players and teams will be that both opportunities and regulation for teams to go coachless to tournaments will change. Many teams have taken advantage of the lack of regulation of 4-on-4 matches, either through ignorance or permissiveness, to have players from a scholastic bowl team attend a tournament by themselves or with a parent. Already, the IHSSBCA has voted (for reasons explained later in this article) to only allow school-affiliated teams for all IHSSBCA tournaments (Novice, Kickoff, Turnabout, NAQT State).

Hopefully, this article will clarify how IHSA rules, both new and old, affect what players, coaches, teams and hosts are responsible for, and then provide solutions so that Scholastic Bowl players can participate without issues arising from either the IHSA or their high school team.

The most important IHSA rule to be aware of with the non-affiliated Scholastic Bowl team situation is one that has been on the books for many years: by-law 2.050. This rule states that IHSA teams must compete against other school-affiliated teams and ONLY against those teams. Officially, competing for or scheduling matches against an unaffiliated team is a violation of a core IHSA rule. For Saturday tournaments, while playing against an unaffiliated team could be a concern for teams strictly following rules, it is likely (in this author’s opinion) that the people who need to be most concerned about it are the tournament organizer and the players on the unaffiliated team.

Unaffiliated teams have been in attendance at many 4-on-4 Illinois and national tournaments, whether the students drive themselves or are under the supervision of a parent (with or without the coach’s knowledge). In all of these situations, without additional preparations made to make the competing team legitimate and affiliated, this could result in a major violation of IHSA rules. In the past, with 4-on-4 tournaments being unregulated, and not under the umbrella of “scholastic bowl,” this was less of an issue; these competitions were classified as non-scholastic bowl events (either under the umbrella of “quiz bowl” or some other term). Records from these matches would not be part of a team’s official IHSA record, so this competition wouldn’t be highly regulated by the IHSA. Now, with the by-law change for the 2016-2017 season, unaffiliated teams competing in 4-on-4 tournaments will be as big of an issue as at 5-on-5 tournaments, conference meets, dual meet scheduling, or any other competition.

Unaffiliated teams have many reasons for attending the tournament, but they typically boil down to high-participating scholastic bowl players looking to get more competition while some resource at the school (usually a coach) is unavailable. It’s an unfortunate side effect of effective regulation that these students, who are motivated to compete and learn more, may be denied opportunities. Luckily, with proper planning and knowledge, it’s relatively easy for an unaffiliated team to become affiliated, even without the school providing typical resources like a coach, transportation, or entry fee on the day of competition.

The only real requirement to be affiliated for a tournament is to make sure the school has approved the competition, and has a school official (coach) in attendance with the students. At first, this seems like an insurmountable requirement. Many times, coaches have conflicts on certain dates, or choose to only work so many Saturdays a season, or even refuse to work or coach on Saturdays at all, feeling like it isn’t part of their job responsibilities. Without addressing the merits of those situations, however, any approved school official may take a scholastic bowl team to competitions, and that official does not necessarily have to be the “typical” coach of the team. While getting another teacher or administrator to attend could be problematic in all but the most necessitating circumstances, the easiest way to get a coach is to get a volunteer adult, such as a parent, to be school-approved.

Under IHSA rules, athletic coaches have many requirements to even volunteer to coach, but for activities like scholastic bowl, there’s really only one hard and fast rule: they need to be approved by the school. That means parents, or even alumni, may serve as a volunteer coach for any weekend, as long as they go through any administrative requirements in advance. For example, in April, my team was interested in competing at NIU at the ATROPHY tournament, but neither myself nor my assistant coach was able to attend due to other school conflicts. Rather than either forgo the tournament or compete unaffiliated, we found a parent of one of the players who was willing to go through the steps to be a volunteer coach. For my school, this required administrator approval (Activities or Athletic Director), application paperwork and a criminal background check. While in some respects this seems like a lot of work to do for a single day of participation (and for no real “coaching” being done), it met the expectations of my school’s administration and allowed the team to compete where otherwise they would not have been able to. In the end, filling out some paperwork and taking the time in advance to have the parent or alumnus to go through a criminal background check really is not that much difficulty or time for someone willing to support the participation of the players.

Other problems that some schools and players face is a situation in which funding for entry fees or transportation cannot be covered for every tournament. In these situations, a simple agreement among the participants and parents in advance, then presented beforehand to the school administration, can usually cover these situations. If all participants and parents agree to cover the costs equally, and/or agree that 1-2 parents can transport the students and coach (or volunteer coach), then school administration will usually have a hard time finding a reason not to allow it. The only requirement may be a well-written permission slip, where parents have signed off on the transportation and shared cost and have, if necessary, acknowledged their awareness that there’s a one-time volunteer coach responsible for the team. If volunteers or outside funding are entirely unavailable, players can also volunteer to moderate a tournament they might otherwise have attended, which gives them exposure to gameplay as well as access to the questions themselves.

Many of the coaches, players, and tournament directors who lead, play for, or allow unaffiliated teams put themselves at risk of IHSA sanctions. While playing against an unaffiliated team is problematic under IHSA rules, the biggest penalties would likely go to those who knowingly violate the rules by playing for the unaffiliated team, and those who schedule that team to play against other teams. Students participating in unaffiliated teams may be disallowed from participate in IHSA activities across the board for a year. Tournament directors who knowingly place such teams on a schedule may also put themselves at risk, especiallly if they are also coaches.

Although as coaches and officials we don’t wish to withhold participation for students looking to expand their knowledge and experience, anyone who serves as both a coach and a tournament director needs to balance their desire for inclusiveness with their responsibility to a high school that has agreed to participate under the IHSA’s rules. I would encourage sharing information from this article, along with any advice you have, with any players who approach you in regard to participating unaffiliated. In the end, all tournament directors, coaches, and players need to make these decisions for themselves in consultation with their schools. I recommend that, if you have any concerns about rules or potential infractions, you contact an activities administrator at your school to help you understand this or any other IHSA rules.

Since many Saturday tournaments now provide moderators for some or all of their rooms, and statistics are being kept online for most tournaments, the role of coaches has changed over the past few years. In the past, coaches moderated more often (often with each coach reading/moderating a half) or kept the only record of stats, so coaches’ roles during tournaments were a major necessity for the running of the tournament. Now, many tournaments leave those tasks to volunteers or other workers, leaving coaches free to do other things. Many coaches take advantage of the time to focus on coaching strategy and play improvement, do more advanced stat keeping, make study lists for future practices, or other productive work, but in the end, much of the necessity of having an experienced scholastic bowl-savvy adult provided by each school (in terms of running the competition) is superfluous with an experienced team. A volunteer coach, whether a parent, alumnus, or another adult, can often fulfill much of the bare-bones necessity of supervision and allow experienced players to fully participate in a tournament. With some careful planning, smart questions asked of coaches or activities administration, and one available adult, players of all schools should be able to participate in all tournaments they choose to while maintaining their affiliation.